Ramo Vigrahavan Dharmah
The month of March brings Ramnavami. In many places the Ramkatha, study of Ramayana and the celebration of Ramnavami would be taking place. That is good to some extent. Some may not even remember that Ramnavami came and left. That is not so good. What is the purpose of celebrating Ramnavami? If we understand it then we shall see that this is a festival that is to be celebrated by all irrespective of what god they worship, irrespective of their creed. By saying that Ramnavami is just a religious festival we are missing the significance of Rama’s life and thereby the great inspiration that we can get for a holistic living.
These are the days when the media, the educational system and many other forces working in our country have created an atmosphere of doubting our cultural history. There are some who are bent upon saying that Rama did not exist and so what is the point in celebrating the birth of Rama who was just a product of a great poet’s imagination. But we know that archaeology, literature, folk tradition, everything points to the historicity of Rama. As put forward by one well-known writer, “Did Rama exist? Yes, I am quite sure he did. Rama’s life was a fact. His divinity is a matter of faith. To doubt the existence of Rama is to doubt all literature. There is no archaeological or epigraphic evidence for either Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed, who are known only from the Bible and Koran, respectively. Does it mean they did not exist? If Rama performs miracles such as liberating Ahalya, the Biblical story of Jesus walking on water or the Koranic tale of Mohammed flying to heaven on a horse are equally miraculous. Such stories reinforce divinity, not fact.”
Saying so, the writer enumerates the sites that are associated with Rama and archaeology proves the historicity of Rama: “The Ramayana is geographically very correct. Every site on Rama’s route is still identifiable and has continuing traditions or temples to commemorate Rama’s visit. Around 1000 BC, no writer had the means to travel around the country inventing a story, fitting it into local folklore and building temples for greater credibility.
“…In 249 BC, Ashoka erected a pillar in Lumbini with an inscription referring to the visits by both Rama and Buddha to Lumbini. Ashoka was much nearer in time to Rama and would be well aware of his facts.
“Rama, Lakshmana and Sita left Ayodhya and went to Sringaverapura — modern Sringverpur in Uttar Pradesh — where they crossed the River Ganga. They lived on Chitrakoot hill… Thereafter, the three wandered through Dandakaranya in Central India... The trio reached Nasik, on the River Godavari, which throbs with sites and events of Rama’s sojourn, such as Tapovan where they lived, Ramkund, where Rama and Sita used to bathe, Lakshmankund, Lakshmana’s bathing area, and several caves in the area associated with their lives in the forest.
“Rama then moved to Panchavati near Bhadrachalam (AP), where Ravana abducted Sita. The dying Jatayu told them of the abduction, so they left in search of Sita. Kishkinda, near Hampi, where Rama first met Sugriva and Hanuman, is a major Ramayana site, where every rock and river is associated with Rama. Anjanadri, near Hospet, was the birthplace of Hanuman (Anjaneya); Sugriva lived in Rishyamukha on the banks of the Pampa (Tungabhadra); Sabari probably also lived in a hermitage there. Rama and the Vanara army left Kishkinda to reach Rameshwaram, where the Vanaras built a bridge to Lanka from Dhanushkodi on Rameshwaram Island to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. While parts of the bridge — now known as Adam’s Bridge — are still visible, NASA’s satellite has photographed an underwater man-made bridge of shoals in the Palk Straits, connecting Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar. On his return from Sri Lanka, Rama worshipped Shiva at Rameshwaram, where Sita prepared a Linga out of sand.
“Sri Lanka also has relics of the Ramayana. There are several caves, such as Ravana Ella Falls, where Ravana is believed to have hidden Sita to prevent Rama from finding her. The Sitai Amman Temple at Numara Eliya is situated near the ashokavana where Ravana once kept her prisoner…
“All the places visited by Rama still retain memories of his visit, as if it happened yesterday. Time, in India, is relative. Some places have commemorative temples; others commemorate the visit in local folklore. But all agree that Rama was going from or to Ayodhya. Why doubt connections when literature, archaeology and local tradition meet? Why doubt the connection between Adam’s Bridge and Rama, when nobody else in Indian history has claimed its construction? (Incidentally, this bridge shown as Ramar Bridge on a 1788 map drawn by the botanist explorer Joseph Parks, was renamed as Adam’s Bridge, in 1804, by J. Rennel, the First Surveyor General of the East India Company!) Why doubt that Rama travelled through Dandakaranya or Kishkinda, where local non-Vedic tribes still narrate tales of Rama? Why doubt that he was born in and ruled over Ayodhya? Rama’s memory lives on because of his extraordinary life and his reign, which was obviously a period of great peace and prosperity, making Ramarajya a reference point.”
In what way was Rama’s life extra-ordinary? What does it mean by Ramarajya? We do not go deep in these questions because there is another category of persons, who say ok, Rama is historical but so what? His way of life, the values that he practiced are most obsolete. So what is the point in celebrating or remembering him?
The third category is of devotees of Rama. They accept Rama as incarnation and on special days like Ramnavami they would have Bhajan or Ramkatha. Thereby for most of them (but by no means for all) the responsibility ends. They do not think of the need of explaining Rama in today’s language to the younger generation so as to make them also the ardent devotees and followers of Sri Rama.
As per our tradition this was part of Rishiyagna, that a householder should understand and study the vision of the Rishis, the objects of deep reverence. Not just study but he should understand the vision of the Rishis as well as the objects of reverence in the modern context and then should pass it on to the next generation. Rishiyagna is passing on the vision as well as practices so as to keep the continuity of tradition in a changed context. Such practice of Rishiyagna made our culture eternal. Occasions like Ramnavami are the opportunities to perform Rishiyagna.
In the era of individualism, the life of Rama might have appeared obsolete, who for the sake of his father’s promise to his step-mother went to forest for fourteen years or who gave up his wife for the sake of the congenial atmosphere in the society. Rama verily appears outdated in the light of individualism.
But today, as science is progressing, our view or vision of the world is changing. Our world-view has undergone change. We do not say any more that it is survival of the fittest but we say that the universe is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. We know that if nature is destroyed, man stands the risk of getting destroyed. Since the sub-atomic studies, study of ecology revealed this fact, there is a search by the modern but thinking man for that way of life which protects nature, which nurtures the society and family and which also helps the individual growth. All this is comprised in one word for us, and that is Dharma.
Dharma is not any set of dogmas to be believed in but it is a way of life based on eternal principles which give us the interpersonal norms of behavior so that integrated human development, and harmony in the family and society is achieved. Western education over the years has in a way hampered our understanding of Dharma. Therefore, unthinkingly Dharma gets translated as religion. But religion is different. Religion means a defined God, a revealed book and a prescribed way of prayers to pray to that God. Dharma is not a religion. Dharma is not what comes to you as a prescribed way of worship by someone. Dharma is not taught, it is sensed. Dharma is a matrix of values sensed by all human beings as value system and thereby accepted by all as the basis for interaction. Everyone knows what is wrong and what is right. Everyone knows what is being selfish and what is in the interest of the Whole. Dharma is doing right. Dharma is what you grow into with your initiative and efforts. Man has all the freedom to wreak havoc around. Dharma is the inner brake system to control and mould man so as to become the harmonious part of the whole. Thus a man’s life is for the family, the family is for the society, the society is for the nation and the nation is for the whole creation.
Thus we can say that Dharma means holistic living. But because of the mechanistic, reductionist training that we have had, it becomes difficult for us to understand Dharma, and that is where the life of Rama is very useful. Rama is considered as Dharma personified. Ramo Vigrahvan Dharma. The Ramayana starts with Valmiki asking Narada who was the greatest man who ever lived on earth. Narada narrates the story of Rama, the King of Ayodhya. Rama was considered as Vigrahvan Dharma. Dharma personified, because each and every action of Sri Rama was for the higher good, in the larger interest. He does not allow the selfish interests, personal attachments or likes and dislikes or false values of prestige to take precedence in choosing the action in the interest of the society.
By giving up his personal claim on the kingdom and the material enjoyment, Sri Rama went to the forest for maintaining the tradition of the family. Then, when it was required, he sacrificed his family joys in order to retain the moral values in the society; to nurture a value-based society. It was not the question of what was the truth about Sita’s character, but it was the question of what was the perception of people. And when the perception of some in the society was of doubt about character, then in such a situation neither Sita nor their children could have grown in a healthy atmosphere. Thus his action turned out to be for the larger interest of the family too. The lesson from Sri Rama’s life is that the human being contributes to expanding circles of consciousness. Expanding individual is a family, expanding family is a society, expanding society is a nation, and expanding nation is whole creation, the consciousness that pervades everywhere. The life of a human being should always be in the interest of the larger identity. If there is a clash between smaller identity, and the larger identity, the decision has to be in the interest of the larger identity. In such a decision the larger interest of the small identity also gets taken care of. Thus harmony is achieved, the Ramarajya gets established. Study the life of Rama and one can know how to lead life so that one’s actions contribute for the creation of an ideal society. And if one happens to be in the position of power as Sri Rama was, then he can create the ideal society – a Ramarajya.
Ramarajya has become a watchword for an ideal society. If we read the descriptions of Ayodhya in the Ramayana, then even by our present modern standard, we see that it was an ideal society. For Mahatma Gandhi, freedom struggle was for establishing Ramarajya in Bharat. It means, he expected to have such values in the society that everyone would look at the larger interest of the society and sacrifice his personal happiness. Sadly, though a section of the leaders quote and swear by Gandhiji, they would scream if the word Ramarajya is mentioned, if Dharma is given prominence. It would be called communal. And so, to be politically correct, when we do not any more refer to Ramarajya, then understanding and working for Ramarajya becomes still a far cry.
There was harmony in Ramarajya because Sri Rama did not divide the society into various communities like Nishadas (tribals), Vanaraas or Rakshasas and set one community at the throat of the other. Even though distinct communities existed and even though some had harmed him, like the Rakshasas, he saw to it that all were united with each other in a higher vision of Dharma. Thus he hugs Guha as his own brother, he becomes friend of Sugreeva, and he gives refuge to Bibhishana and even promises him that he would not destroy the Rakshasas if they were not supporting Ravana. He even offers an opportunity for Ravana to set right the wrong. If only Sri Rama wanted, it would have been easier for him to take the help of Guha and fight with Bharat which Guha had offered to do. He could have set Vanaras against Rakshasas, but by accepting Bibhishana he impressed on the minds of the Vanaras that the fight was not with the Rakshasas as a community but with those who are Adharmik, who are breaking the norms of harmonious existence. The rulers and administrators in order to retain their power should not fragment the society but using their very power and their acceptance in the society should make the communities accept each other and thus bring cohesiveness. This is what Sri Rama did and so could develop an integrated and harmonious society. The celebration of Ramnavami is to take inspiration from Sri Rama’s life to work for establishing an ideal society, striving for a holistic living – Dharma, by surrendering the selfish interest of the smaller identity for the sake of the bigger identity.